Continuing with the theme that a good scifi game is one that supports the kind of scifi a person likes. In my case that’s sciency space western where the sciency stuff isn’t the point but it’s necessary to create the right scifi *feel*.
I’ve written about this before but as this blog is mostly a notepad for my projects then as things change I’ll make new posts and delete or compress older ones.
Premise: Colonist Type
When people think of space colonization they often think of earlier episodes like the US frontier however space colonists are more likely to be technical specialists: engineers, scientists, technicians, a space colony’s farmers are more likely to be running half a dozen biodomes than two mules and a plow and space miners might be sitting in a pressurized cabin watching half a dozen mining drones.
So i think space colonization will be different because of the type of people involved.
Apart from Homo Astralis who want to go into space because it’s there the other main group of potential colonists will be people who want a better life but if space requires technical skills and technical skills generally lead to a decent life on Earth there’s a Catch 22. Only if life on Earth become much worse for the sort of people suitable to leave will there be a large candidate pool. This might happen of course but otherwise i think permanent space colonization will mostly be undertaken by relatively small numbers of a particular type of person.
There are possible exceptions – space Amish, political dissidents, criminals etc but otherwise I think this will generally be true.
Premise: Trade and Resources
There’s an argument which seems plausible to me that even with FTL, interstellar trade in common resources doesn’t make sense because each solar system has a more or less limitless abundance of those resources so lots of scifi troops space miners and ore freighters maybe but only in-system and not interstellar.
I can see some exceptions to that – low cost extraction in one system outweighing the transport costs – but otherwise i think i agree.
This idea particularly effects a lot of older SF where mining colonies are almost the default.
Premise Colony Type
I think colonization of the solar system will follow traditional logic so initially exploration and knowledge for it’s own sake but eventually also resource extraction. Most people wouldn’t want to raise children on an oil rig but if the money is good enough people will work on them for a time and then come home to their family. People would go to work on space rocks on the same basis.So if scientists and explorers lead the way to figuring out how to live on space rocks then commercial colonization will follow to extract resources (even if only for n years at a time in the same way oil rigs are only months at a time).
However what about beyond the solar system?
Personally, with or without FTL, I can’t see many people wanting to permanently colonize and bring up children on a space rock where they couldn’t survive without external tech support – some but not many. If there was enough money in it maybe but then they’d want to earn it there and then leave to spend it somewhere nice.
The other option is people being forced to do it but scifi is high tech so even if they were forced how many people would you actually need on a space rock?
So personally I don’t think you’d get large space colonies anywhere that didn’t have the potential to turn into a “Home” world i.e. a breathable atmosphere and the possibility of survival in the event of external tech support being lost. The keyword here is “large” – a colony that could eventually turn into another Earth. There’s still plenty of reasons for small ones.
There are plenty of conceivable exceptions to the rule but I think it would be the rule.
So my space colonization premise is permanent settlers would rank target planets in terms of their pleasantness and survivability without tech:
- type one: breathable atmosphere, native food resources available using lotech methods if necessary – fully tech independent
- type two: as above but some kind of taint e.g. too much UV, insects, pollen etc which makes life outside domes unpleasant but not lethal and can be adapted for in clothing etc
- type three: non-breathable atmosphere but with plentiful components for making fresh air and water and with native food resources e.g. planet where the oceans have life and oxygen but not elsewhere
- type four: non-breathable atmosphere with plentiful components to make fresh air and water and grow hitech food
- type five: fully dependent on recycling or outside supply – fully tech dependent
and only type one could get significant numbers of voluntary settlers and that number would be reduced by the need for relevant hitech skills.
- population growth could be fairly slow and steady in a hitech colony assuming the female colonists don’t have 16 kids
- space Amish or forced relocation of settlers only equipped with seeds and basic farming tools could grow faster
- maximum reachable population would depend on rank – even second rank colonies would have a low (voluntary) size imo.
- after a tech collapse a type 2 or 3 colony could go native and expand naturally to its lotech limit.
- a colony that developed it’s own resource extraction and manufacturing base to the point where it was tech independent could negate the survivability issues but I don’t think a colony is likely to become large enough to do this unless it was attractive to start with.
In the past my mental picture of “sciency space” (assuming FTL) was mining colonies everywhere with some growing to become independent polities but that doesn’t work for me any more and now “Sciency Space” has to revolve around the systems with Earth-like or nearly earth-like planets. There can be hundreds of exceptions but they will be exceptions to the general rule so for example in an Imperium sized bit of space there might be one system with billions of people living on a hell world (or something similarly unlikely) but not dozens.
The biggest exception to this rule would be if the setting has FTL travel with some kind of range limit in which case there would be stepping stones along the route to the earth-like planets.
So how many systems have earth-like planets?